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Three Things We Learned: Pune City 2-3 Delhi Dynamos

Naven Venkat discusses three talking points about the Indian Super League game that finished Pune City 2-3 Delhi Dynamos

After a couple of tepid seasons in the ISL, FC Pune City instigated a major overhaul of their squad for the 2017-18 campaign landing several new players. The most notable of these being ex-Delhi Dynamos star Marcelinho Leite, last season’s Golden Boot winner. For the fans of Pune it also meant a glimpse of their new manager Ranko Popovic’s tactics. While the Lions ended up winning 3-2, the scoreline itself, as it sometimes is, does not tell you much more than who picked up the points. Here were the 3 things we learned.

Line-ups and Tactics

FCPC were set up initially in a 4-3-2-1 formation with Alfaro leading the line for the Stallions with Jon Lucca, Jewel Raja and Marcelinho playing behind him to generate opportunities. However, within moments of kick-off Raja went down with an injury that he sustained from warm-up resulting in his early withdrawal. He was replaced by Baljit Sahni in midfield. This early substitution resulted in a changed formation with Marcelinho moving further forward to play just behind Alfaro in a second striker role and Baljit replacing Raja and occupying the Left Midfield position. Jon Lucca for most of the first half played as a trequartista while also tracking back once in a while to negate the effect of Delhi’s central midfielders. Delhi on the other hand lined up with 3 men at the back with Pritam Kotal and Lalhmangaihsanga Ralte playing as wingbacks. Vinit Rai and Paulinho Dias occupied the center of midfield and Mirabaje, although starting behind the lone striker Kalu Uche, seemed to have the freedom to roam in the middle of the park. Rounding off Delhi’s line-up were wingers Guyon Fernandez on the right and 20 year old Lallianzuala Chhangte on the left.

The game started off extremely quickly with Pune’s aggressive high press negating Delhi’s quality on the ball. However, there was a severe lack of composure on the ball from FCPC’s players, especially their defenders which resulted in them losing the ball several times immediately after winning possession. Delhi quickly adapted as Mirabaje dropped deeper to pick up the ball from midfield and spraying it out to his wide men who were ahead of him which helped push back Pune’s defenders, especially their full-backs played very high up the pitch. 20 year old Vinit Rai played a very key role when Delhi had the ball as he dropped in between his center-backs several times to receive the ball and play it forward or wide to his wingbacks. This played no small role in alleviating the pressure applied by the co-ordinated pressing of Marcelinho, Alfaro, and Lucca. Rohit Kumar was especially impressive in the 1st half showing great tactical awareness and toughness, with several of his tackles and interceptions changing the direction of attack in the game. However, as the game progressed, his influence waned and the more experienced Marcos Tebar, his midfield partner offered little during the course of the game. Marcelinho dropped deeper towards the end of the first half and played several clever balls into the 18 yard box to Baljit whose incessant running offered another dimension to FCPC’s attack but ultimately his wastefulness cost him.

In contrast to the staid first half, the second half yielded 5 goals, each of extremely high quality. Delhi came out roaring in the second half (pun unintended) and immediately punished Gurtej Singh’s misplaced pass by pouncing on it and playing it wide to young Chhalte who then delivered an inch perfect cross to the head of the sprinting Paulinho from midfield who made no mistake from a few yards out. Within minutes of the first goal, Gurtej, who had a game to forget, once again lost the ball due to aggressive pressing by Paulinho and though he tried retrieving the loose ball, he was no match for Chhangte whose pace and touch took the ball away from him and finally resulted in composed chip over Kamaljit Singh doubling Delhi’s lead. The composure shown by Chhangte belied his age. The two goals were thoroughly deserved and merely the result of energetic pressing, slick one-touch passing, and opportunistic finishing which was the hallmark of Delhi’s second half performance. The introduction of Limu in place of Fernandez at half time proved to be a master-stroke as time and again he provided an outlet for long balls from the defence and held up play in the final third. This also provided enough time for Pritam Kotal to make runs from deep to provide threatening crosses.

As the game wore on, Delhi asserted their dominance and in the 65th minute, Mirabaje scored an early goal-of-the-season contender, an incredible curler from the edge of the box with his trusty left foot. Soon after, Alfaro pulled one back for FCPC against the run of play when an errant cross from Sarthak, the FCPC right back. It was a good, if slightly fortuitous deflected finish, with the striker lashing at the ball with his left foot from outside the box. Game on! As the game wore on, the pace slowed and Delhi looked to safely play out the contest, making a few substitutions to further kill time. Pune’s pressing lost its intensity as the 3rd goal knocked the wind out of their sails. However, there was still some drama as Pune pulled a 2nd goal back in injury time but it was too little, too late.

Top Performers

Mirabaje: Masterful performance in the middle of the park. Seemed at ease picking up the ball anywhere on the pitch and seemed at ease pinging his wide men and switching play. Showed some nifty footwork and in general, ran rings around the Pune central midfielders. Also scored a beauty. Would have surely won the Man-of-the-Match if not for the performance of

Lallianzuala Chhangte: A lightning quick winger who has been part of India’s U-18 setup in the past, this youngster’s performance tonight was superlative. Made intelligent runs and never seemed to panic in the final third. Also put in a good shift defensively, helping Ralte in dealing with the threat of Marcelinho on the right. A game to remember for him as he capped it all off with a goal and an assist. Keep an eye this lad!

Emiliano Alfaro: Although he ended up on the losing side, the Uruguayan striker led from the front and seems like an able executor of Popovic’s intense pressing game. Went whole-heartedly into every challenge and chased loose balls throughout the game. Absolute menace for ninety minutes and grabbed a goal which nearly resulted in a comeback by Pune. Best player for the Stallions without a doubt.

What next for:

Pune: The first game under a new manager is always going to be difficult tactically and today’s performance showed that. Careless turnovers of the ball resulted in goals which more or less buried the Purple-and-Orange. However, Pune’s defensive solidity in the 1st half was a definite positive and their high intensity pressing should hold them in good stead as the season progresses.

Delhi: The Lions looked great offensively today but Portugal’s three-at-the-back strategy still has flaws that need to be ironed out. They appear eager to put last season’s heartbreak behind them and look to go all the way this season. They certainly have the squad to do it.

Read all our Indian Super League content here

Naven Venkat

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